Philip Anthony Esposito, OC (born February 20, 1942) is a former Canadian professional ice hockey centre who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League for the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. He is an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and is considered to be one of the best to have ever played in the National Hockey League. Phil is the older brother of Tony Esposito, a goaltender who, like Phil, is a Hall-of-Famer.
After retiring as a player, Esposito served as a head coach and general manager for the New York Rangers before co-founding the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was the principal studio analyst for the NHL on Fox circa 1995–1998. He now serves as Tampa Bay’s radio color commentator.
Esposito signed with the Chicago Black Hawks as a teenager and was assigned to the Sarnia Legionnaires Jr. ‘B’ hockey team for the 1960-61 season. In just 32 games with the Legionnaires he scored 47 goals and 61 assists, for 108 points. It was a scoring pace of 3.3 points per game. In a playoff game, he scored 12 points in one game as the Legionnaires advanced to the Western Ontario final before being eliminated. After a sparkling junior season with the St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1962, Esposito spent two seasons with Chicago’s minor league affiliate, the St. Louis Braves, scoring 90 points in his first season and 80 points in only 46 games in his second.
Chicago Black Hawks
Midway through the 1964 season, Esposito was called up to the parent Black Hawks to make his NHL debut. Centering for the great Bobby Hull beginning in the 1965 season, he proved himself a quality playmaker, twice finishing amongst the league-leading scorers over the next three seasons.
In 1967, he was dealt to the Boston Bruins in a blockbuster trade, along with Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. While the hitherto unremarkable Hodge and Stanfield became stars in the black-and-gold, Esposito blossomed into the greatest scorer of his day, becoming the first NHL player to score 100 points in a season with 126 in the 1969 season. He would top the “century” mark six times in all, including five consecutive seasons between 1971 and 1975 (plus a 99-point season in 1970), capturing the Art Ross Trophy in 1969 and 1971–74 as the top regular season scorer, and leading the league in goals for six straight seasons, (69/70 to 74/75).
Esposito was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team six consecutive times (from 1969–74), and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 1969 and 1974. His Boston fans printed and displayed bumper stickers during his best years to celebrate his scoring: they read, “Jesus saves, Espo scores on the rebound.” Esposito, while not a fast or graceful skater, was best known for his unmovable presence in front of the opposition net from which he could score from all angles. Esposito has said: “Scoring is easy. You simply stand in the slot, take your beating and shoot the puck into the net.”
During these great years, centering one of the most renowned forward lines in history with Hodge on right wing and left winger Wayne Cashman, Esposito and fellow superstar Bobby Orr led the Bruins toStanley Cup victories in 1970 and 1972, and first-place finishes in the league in 1971, 1972 and 1974.
During 1970–71, Esposito shattered the record for most goals scored in a season when he finished up with 76. This record stood until 1982 when Wayne Gretzky scored his 77th, 78th and 79th goal against the Buffalo Sabres on February 24, 1982 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Esposito was on hand to present the game puck to Gretzky. Esposito also set the single season point-scoring record in 1971 with 152, a mark now held by Gretzky at 215. Only three other players have reached the 150 point-scoring plateau — Mario Lemieux 199, Steve Yzerman 155 and Bernie Nicholls 150 — and only Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull, Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny have scored 76 or more goals in a season. That season also saw Esposito shatter the single season mark for shots on goal with 550. This record still stands; in fact, only one other player has been within 100 shots of tying it (Alexander Ovechkin in 2008–09, in a season that was four games longer than when Esposito set the record).
After his performance in the Summit Series, where he was the inspirational leader for Team Canada and its leading scorer in the series, he won the 1972 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s outstanding male athlete of the year and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Esposito also scored the first goal of the series and he scored or assisted four times in the deciding game. During that series, his scolding of Canadian fans, who booed the national team after a 5–3 loss to the Soviet Union in Game Four, was credited with firing up his teammates:
“If the Russian fans boo their players in Moscow like you people are booing us, I’ll come back and apologize personally to every one of you, but I really don’t think that will happen. We gave it and are doing our best. All of us guys are really disheartened. . . . We came out here because we love Canada. They’re a good hockey team, and we don’t know what we could do better, but I promise we will figure it out. But it’s totally ridiculous — I don’t think it is fair that we should be booed.”
He also played for Team Canada in the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976, on a line with Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Marcel Dionne. The following year, Esposito would represent Canada once more in the 1977 World Championships.
New York Rangers
While not as glittering an offensive force as in his glory days, as captain of the Rangers, Esposito led the Blueshirts in points each of his full seasons with the club and remained an effective scorer until his final season. The highlight of his years in New York was leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final in 1979 where at 37 years of age he finished third in postseason scoring.
On November 4, 1977, Esposito scored his 600th NHL goal at Vancouver, becoming the first player to reach that milestone in a Rangers uniform.
Esposito served as General Manager and coach of the Rangers for three years in the mid 1980s, during which he earned the nickname “Trader Phil” for the numerous transactions he made. During his tenure as GM, he made more trades than the Vancouver Canucks had made in the entire 1980s. While serving as GM, two of his most famous trades included the trade for the legendary Marcel Dionne and one which he sent a first round pick to the Quebec Nordiques as compensation for signing Michel Bergeron to be the Rangers’ coach.
He moved on to found the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning but faced competition from the Compuware Group who wanted to place a team in nearby St. Petersburg. It was proposed to Esposito that he merge his bid with the Compuware Group to which he refused. His reputation and force of personality was widely credited with winning the expansion bid for Tampa Bay—in 1992, serving as the team’s president and general manager until 1998. Compuware eventually purchased the Hartford Whalers.
In the Lightning’s inaugural season, he made hockey history by signing Manon Rhéaume, making her the first woman to sign with an NHL team. He later admitted in his autobiography that signing Rheaume was only a publicity stunt for the new franchise and that she had no business being in the NHL. He remains the team’s radio color commentator, and also co-hosts a daily call-in show on XM Satellite Radio‘s Home Ice channel.
Esposito was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984. In December 1987, his #7 jersey was retired by the Boston Bruins in an emotional ceremony where the then-current wearer, superstar defenseman Ray Bourque, pulled off his #7 jersey to reveal his new number, 77—dramatically “surrendering” his old number in Esposito’s favor. Esposito was “visibly moved” when Bourque showed theBoston Garden crowd his new number, which he used for the rest of his career. Esposito was also on hand in Boston to hand Bourque his retired number after the latter retired.
Awards and achievements
- 1968–69 – Art Ross Trophy winner
- 1968–69 – Hart Memorial Trophy winner
- 1969–70 – Stanley Cup champion
- 1970–71 – Art Ross Trophy winner
- 1970–71 – Lester B. Pearson Award winner
- 1971–72 – Stanley Cup champion
- 1971–72 – Art Ross Trophy winner
- 1972–73 – Lester B. Pearson Award winner
- 1972–73 – Art Ross Trophy winner
- 1973–74 – Art Ross Trophy winner
- 1973–74 – Hart Memorial Trophy winner
- 1977–78 – Lester Patrick Trophy winner
- 1984 – Inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame
- December 3, 1987 – #7 jersey retired by the Boston Bruins
- Played in NHL All-Star Game (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980)
- NHL First All-Star Team (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
- NHL Second All-Star Team (1968, 1975)
- Retired as the second leading all time NHL goal and point scorer, and third in assists.
- Among the all-time NHL leaders in goals scored (5th), assists (21st), and total points (10th), as of the end of the 2008–09 season.
- Won Lou Marsh Trophy as Canadian athlete of the year in 1972.
- Holds the record for shots on goal in a single season with 550 in 1970–71.
- All time leader in game winning goals with 118.
- Had thirteen consecutive 30+ goal seasons, second most in history.
- First NHL player to score 1,000 points in a decade.
- In 1998, he was ranked number 18 on The Hockey News‘ list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
- Inducted in 2007 (alongside brother Tony) into the Sault Ste Marie Walk of Fame.
- Ranked No. 23 on the all-time list of New York Rangers in the book 100 Ranger Greats (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
- Received a star on the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto, Canada in 2009.
- Statue unveiled in his honor in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum on December 31, 2011.
|1961–62||St. Catharines Teepees||OHA||49||32||39||71||54||6||1||4||5||9|
|1962–63||St. Louis Braves||EPHL||71||36||54||90||51||—||—||—||—||—|
|1963–64||St. Louis Braves||CPHL||43||26||54||80||65||—||—||—||—||—|
|1963–64||Chicago Black Hawks||NHL||27||3||2||5||2||4||0||0||0||0|
|1964–65||Chicago Black Hawks||NHL||70||23||32||55||44||13||3||3||6||15|
|1965–66||Chicago Black Hawks||NHL||69||27||26||53||49||6||1||1||2||2|
|1966–67||Chicago Black Hawks||NHL||69||21||40||61||40||6||0||0||0||7|
|1975–76||New York Rangers||NHL||62||29||38||67||28||—||—||—||—||—|
|1976–77||New York Rangers||NHL||80||34||46||80||52||—||—||—||—||—|
|1977–78||New York Rangers||NHL||79||38||43||81||53||3||0||1||1||5|
|1978–79||New York Rangers||NHL||80||42||36||78||37||18||8||12||20||20|
|1979–80||New York Rangers||NHL||80||34||44||78||73||9||3||3||6||8|
|1980–81||New York Rangers||NHL||41||7||13||20||20||—||—||—||—||—|
- Played for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series
- Played for Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup
- Played for Team Canada in the 1977 Ice Hockey World Championships
He and New York Rangers teammates Ron Duguay, Dave Maloney and Anders Hedberg famously appeared in a TV commercial for Sasson designer jeans in 1977. In 1979, Esposito and Ranger teammates recorded a song written by Alan Thicke as a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation called the Hockey Sock Rock.
A shorter paraphrase of his speech during the Summit Series was delivered by Brent Butt on the “The Good Old Table Hockey Game” episode of Corner Gas. Later in the same episode, a table hockeyfigure is shown to be fallen on the ice, it is remarked to be Esposito.